Soon after graduating high school, our son had his first psychotic break. Eventually, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a variant of schizophrenia. The past few years have been incredibly difficult for him. They have also been hard for us, his family.
Five years ago, our son was entering college on a full academic scholarship, playing clarinet in the band, and enjoying close friendships.
Suddenly, everything changed. He was hospitalized five times in four years, requiring multiple medical leaves from school. His behavior was strange, alienating, frustrating, sometimes frightening. He burned through all the common medications. Some meds came with a steep price tag and no benefit. Others came with terrible side effects, including nightmares and panic. After the last hospitalization, the doctor told us his frontal lobe was “fried” and implied we should be looking at institutions.
Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness, afflicting approximately 1 percent of the population. Common symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, disordered speech, emotional flatness, and apathy. Not surprisingly, individuals with schizophrenia have trouble living independently. They find it difficult to make friends, hold jobs, or even change their clothes on a regular schedule.
As his mother, I spent five years crying, and praying, and struggling to understand what had happened.
Thankful? In This?
During that time, the Thanksgiving holiday was particularly trying. Of course, I had things to be thankful for. Food, family, friends, a roof over my head. But these blessings seemed insubstantial compared to the hollowing-out of my beloved son.
I knew believers are called to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16–18). But how could I fight my way to a place of gratitude? Would I ever find joy again?
Corrie ten Boom, a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II, wrote about her imprisonment in a German concentration camp, crawling with fleas. Corrie’s spiritually minded sister Betsie urged Corrie to practice gratitude, to the point of thanking God for the fleas. Corrie thought Betsie was out of her mind.
Then, surprisingly, the guards gave the prisoners unprecedented freedom in the barracks. Corrie later discovered this reprieve from harassment was precisely because the guards feared the fleas.
If Corrie could thank God for fleas in a Nazi concentration camp, could…